Importance: Postoperative delirium is common following cardiac surgery and may be affected by choice of analgesic and sedative.
Objective: To evaluate the effect of postoperative intravenous (IV) acetaminophen (paracetamol) vs placebo combined with IV propofol vs dexmedetomidine on postoperative delirium among older patients undergoing cardiac surgery.
Design, setting, and participants: Randomized, placebo-controlled, factorial clinical trial among 120 patients aged 60 years or older undergoing on-pump coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery or combined CABG/valve surgeries at a US center. Enrollment was September 2015 to April 2018, with follow-up ending in April 2019.
Interventions: Patients were randomized to 1 of 4 groups receiving postoperative analgesia with IV acetaminophen or placebo every 6 hours for 48 hours and postoperative sedation with dexmedetomidine or propofol starting at chest closure and continued for up to 6 hours (acetaminophen and dexmedetomidine: n = 29; placebo and dexmedetomidine: n = 30; acetaminophen and propofol: n = 31; placebo and propofol: n = 30).
Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome was incidence of postoperative in-hospital delirium by the Confusion Assessment Method. Secondary outcomes included delirium duration, cognitive decline, breakthrough analgesia within the first 48 hours, and ICU and hospital length of stay.
Results: Among 121 patients randomized (median age, 69 years; 19 women [15.8%]), 120 completed the trial. Patients treated with IV acetaminophen had a significant reduction in delirium (10% vs 28% placebo; difference, -18% [95% CI, -32% to -5%]; P = .01; HR, 2.8 [95% CI, 1.1-7.8]). Patients receiving dexmedetomidine vs propofol had no significant difference in delirium (17% vs 21%; difference, -4% [95% CI, -18% to 10%]; P = .54; HR, 0.8 [95% CI, 0.4-1.9]). There were significant differences favoring acetaminophen vs placebo for 3 prespecified secondary outcomes: delirium duration (median, 1 vs 2 days; difference, -1 [95% CI, -2 to 0]), ICU length of stay (median, 29.5 vs 46.7 hours; difference, -16.7 [95% CI, -20.3 to -0.8]), and breakthrough analgesia (median, 322.5 vs 405.3 µg morphine equivalents; difference, -83 [95% CI, -154 to -14]). For dexmedetomidine vs propofol, only breakthrough analgesia was significantly different (median, 328.8 vs 397.5 µg; difference, -69 [95% CI, -155 to -4]; P = .04). Fourteen patients in both the placebo-dexmedetomidine and acetaminophen-propofol groups (46% and 45%) and 7 in the acetaminophen-dexmedetomidine and placebo-propofol groups (24% and 23%) had hypotension.
Conclusions and relevance: Among older patients undergoing cardiac surgery, postoperative scheduled IV acetaminophen, combined with IV propofol or dexmedetomidine, reduced in-hospital delirium vs placebo. Additional research, including comparison of IV vs oral acetaminophen and other potentially opioid-sparing analgesics, on the incidence of postoperative delirium is warranted.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT02546765.